Leading article: There is still time to avoid this nuclear folly

Share

In theory there is something for everyone in the White Paper on energy that the Government unveiled yesterday. The renewables sector receives a carrot in the form of a boost to the tidal barrage scheme on the Severn estuary. The proposal for "smart" electricity meters in homes is a nod in the direction of greater energy efficiency. There is to be greater encouragement for biofuel and carbon capture technology too. But the group given real cause to celebrate yesterday is the nuclear lobby.

This will be remembered as the White Paper that proposed to clear the path towards a new generation of nuclear power stations in Britain. The reasons why this is deeply undesirable should be familiar by now. Nuclear power is prohibitively expensive. Construction costs have a history of spiralling over budget and past decommissioning bills have been vast. For these reasons, the sector requires huge indirect subsidies from the Government in the form of price guarantees, insurance support and help in dealing with waste. This form of energy production is also highly dangerous. Spent nuclear fuel is highly radioactive and no nation has yet implemented a long-term disposal solution.

Meanwhile, its advantages are overstated. The Trade Secretary, Alistair Darling, justified his proposals yesterday on the grounds that nuclear power stations do not produce carbon dioxide emissions. But considerable carbon emissions are produced by the mining of the uranium needed for the fission process.

Perhaps the greatest danger posed by this White Paper is that it would enable nuclear investment to crowd out investment in renewable energy. We must raise our national ambitions for renewable power production. There is no reason why, in the long term, a combination of wind, tidal and solar power should not take care of at least a half of our energy needs. The UK has the best wind resources in Europe. The other missing piece of the jigsaw is a proper international price on carbon emissions. With that in place, renewables will become a considerably more attractive investment.

This focus on nuclear energy also risks undermining efforts to tackle energy efficiency. It is crucial that we do not underestimate the importance of this front in the battle against climate change. A great deal of the energy used in Britain goes on gas heating. Nuclear electricity generation is simply not a viable alternative to this. But greater insulation in homes and offices can be. This highlights a need for a structural shift that this White Paper barely touches on. The fact is that the national electricity grid is remarkably inefficient. It is constructed around big, isolated, power stations. But microgeneration - in the form of combined heat and power plants - would be much more efficient.

Mr Darling insists a final decision on nuclear power will not be made until October. But the recent behaviour of the Government gives little cause for optimism. A 2003 White Paper described nuclear power as an "unattractive option". But in January 2006, the Government announced it was moving towards a nuclear solution after all. A court ruling in February found ministers guilty of failing to consult the public properly on the matter. Finally, this week the Government proposed to change the planning laws, with one eye on clearing the decks for a nuclear resurgence. The Government claims to be interested in an open debate, but acts as if it has made its mind up.

Tony Blair has become a strong nuclear supporter. But the position of his successor, Gordon Brown, is less clear cut. And it is Mr Brown who will be left with the job of paying for these dangerous follies. It is not too late for Britain to switch back to an environmentally friendly - and non-nuclear - energy track.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
SPONSORED FEATURES
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive or Senior Sales Executive - B2B Exhibitions

£18000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Sales Executive or Senior Sal...

Recruitment Genius: Head of Support Services

£40000 - £55000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Warehouse Team Leader

£22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This industry leading company produces h...

Recruitment Genius: Business Development Manager / Sales - OTE £40,000

£20000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This IT provider for the educat...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Errors & Omissions: the strange case of the errant royal pronoun

Guy Keleny
Flowers and candles are placed at the site where a refrigerated truck with decomposing bodies was found by an Austrian motorway  

EU migrant crisis: The 71 people found dead in a lorry should have reached sanctuary

Charlotte Mcdonald-Gibson
The Silk Roads that trace civilisation: Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation

Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places
House of Lords: Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled

The honours that shame Britain

Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled
When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race

'When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race'

Why are black men living the stereotypes and why are we letting them get away with it?
International Tap Festival: Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic

International Tap Festival comes to the UK

Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic
War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border
Doris Lessing: Acclaimed novelist was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show

'A subversive brothel keeper and Communist'

Acclaimed novelist Doris Lessing was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show
Big Blue Live: BBC's Springwatch offshoot swaps back gardens for California's Monterey Bay

BBC heads to the Californian coast

The Big Blue Live crew is preparing for the first of three episodes on Sunday night, filming from boats, planes and an aquarium studio
Austin Bidwell: The Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England with the most daring forgery the world had known

Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England

Conman Austin Bidwell. was a heartless cad who carried out the most daring forgery the world had known
Car hacking scandal: Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked

Car hacking scandal

Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked
10 best placemats

Take your seat: 10 best placemats

Protect your table and dine in style with a bold new accessory
Ashes 2015: Alastair Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

Aussie skipper Michael Clarke was lured into believing that what we witnessed at Edgbaston and Trent Bridge would continue in London, says Kevin Garside
Can Rafael Benitez get the best out of Gareth Bale at Real Madrid?

Can Benitez get the best out of Bale?

Back at the club he watched as a boy, the pressure is on Benitez to find a winning blend from Real's multiple talents. As La Liga begins, Pete Jenson asks if it will be enough to stop Barcelona
Athletics World Championships 2015: Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jessica Ennis-Hill and Katarina Johnson-Thompson heptathlon rivalry

Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jess and Kat rivalry

The last time the two British heptathletes competed, Ennis-Hill was on the way to Olympic gold and Johnson-Thompson was just a promising teenager. But a lot has happened in the following three years
Jeremy Corbyn: Joining a shrewd operator desperate for power as he visits the North East

Jeremy Corbyn interview: A shrewd operator desperate for power

His radical anti-austerity agenda has caught the imagination of the left and politically disaffected and set a staid Labour leadership election alight
Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief: Defender of ancient city's past was killed for protecting its future

Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief

Robert Fisk on the defender of the ancient city's past who was killed for protecting its future